The Associated Press. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, left, accompanied by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.
WASHINGTON -- Failure to raise the U.S. debt limit would probably ensure President Barack Obama's re-election in 2012, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned fellow conservatives on Wednesday, fresh evidence of deep GOP political divisions on an issue of paramount importance to the nation and its economy.
McConnell spoke as Obama and congressional leaders met for a fourth straight day -- struggling to avert an unprecedented government default threatened for Aug. 2 -- and rank-and-file lawmakers advanced fallback measures in case the bipartisan talks fail.
One version, authored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was designed to make sure Social Security benefits are paid on time. Another, unveiled by a trio of House conservatives, would give priority to paychecks for members of the armed forces.
''Currently, there is not a single debt limit proposal that can pass the House of Representatives,'' House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a written statement. He said efforts should focus on ''what we can agree upon'' rather than Democratic demands for raising taxes or GOP calls to repeal the year-old health care bill.
Without an increase in government borrowing authority by Aug. 2, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has warned, there could be a default posing a catastrophic risk to the economy, still recovering from the worst recession in decades.
In a sobering reminder of the stakes, the Treasury Department announced that the federal deficit was on pace to exceed $1 trillion for the third consecutive year, and was likely to top last year's $1.29 trillion.
In a radio interview on the Laura Ingraham Show, McConnell predicted that if Congress fails to act, Obama will argue ''that Republicans are making the economy worse and try to convince the public, maybe with some merit, if people start not getting their Social Security checks and military families start getting letters saying their service people overseas don't get paid.
''You know it's an argument he has a good chance of winning, and all of a sudden we (Republicans) have co-ownership of a bad economy. That is a very bad positioning going into an election,'' he said.
McConnell said his first choice was to reach a good compromise with Obama.
Short of that, ''my second obligation is to my party ... to prevent them from being sucked into a horrible position politically that would allow the president probably to get re-elected because we didn't handle this difficult situation correctly.''